tagSci-Fi & FantasyThree Square Meals Ch. 046

Three Square Meals Ch. 046

byTefler©

Dana slapped another magazine into her railgun, and hurriedly snapped off a three round burst at the Fulmanax warrior that was charging straight towards her. The high velocity rounds slammed into the right side of its head, blasting out huge chunks of white, fibrous material, until the third round punched through to the nerve ganglia. The eight foot tall Fungoid creature crashed over lifelessly, skidding across the ground, and coming to a rest at her armour plated feet.

"I'm getting low on ammo!" Rachel called out to her, as she poured fire into the incoming aliens.

Dana grabbed her last grenade, pulling it free from her webbing, and lobbing it into the group of half-dozen Fulmanax that were stomping rapidly towards them with their odd rolling gait. There was a deafening explosion, and sticky white chunks of eviscerated Fungoid soldier went sailing overhead, with a few pieces splattering wetly against her chest. She peered out into the gloomy mist of the huge cavern, and could see indistinct shapes moving in the far distance, but for the moment they seemed to have a temporary reprieve.

Whirling to look at Rachel, Dana said urgently, "We're safe for the moment! Go check on Alyssa, she's been hurt!"

Rachel nodded, and darted back towards the back of the cavern, where John, Alyssa, and Irillith had disappeared out of sight behind the calcite pillars. She looked around frantically for her friends, and then gasped in alarm when she spotted Alyssa's crumpled form, half-buried under a collapsed stone pillar. She ran over and skidded to her knees, quickly examining her fallen companion and trying to evaluate how badly she had been injured. At first glance it looked pretty bad, and judging by the crushed armour plating where the massive stone had fallen on Alyssa's right side, at the bare minimum she probably had multiple breaks on her right arm and leg.

Rachel carefully removed Alyssa's dented helmet, and quickly pulled the medi-scanner from her belt, so that she could check her vital signs. She fought down a rising sense of panic while the device took an interminably long time to perform its scan, but she sighed with relief when it picked up a pulse and found no sign of brain damage. Realising she needed to get Alyssa out of there immediately, she glanced around to look for the others. There was no sign of John, but Irillith was slumped against a sturdy pillar, hugging herself tightly where she sat rocking on the floor.

"Irillith!" Rachel yelled at the Maliri woman, "Are you alright? Where's John?"

The golden armoured woman turned to look at her, and nodded hesitantly, and then pointed a trembling arm into the cavern beyond.

"For fuck's sake," Rachel muttered under her breath, and paused for a moment, trying to decide the best course of action. Dana was standing guard in case more Fulmanax warriors attacked, Irillith seemed... broken, which only left John to help her pull Alyssa clear from the stone cylinder she was trapped under. Rachel rose to her feet, raising her railgun to her shoulder, and began to walk cautiously through the gallery of stone pillars, into the other chamber.

She paused when Irillith suddenly leapt to her feet, and darted over to her, placing a restraining hand on her shoulder. The Maliri sounding absolutely terrified, as she blurted out, "No! Don't go in there! We should flee this place, while the Mael'nerak is distracted."

Rachel frowned and shook herself free from the other woman's hand as she said, "What's got into you? Go and help Dana! It looked like there were more Fulmanax warriors getting ready to attack."

Irillith stood at Rachel's side, her hand still held out in a silent plea. She turned to look into the huge chamber beyond, and then backed away fearfully, before turning to dash back into the other cavern.

Rachel watched her run, shaking her head at the Maliri's bizarre behaviour. She suddenly heard the sound of footsteps coming from the chamber beyond, and she immediately recognised the sound of Phalanx armoured boots on the rocky ledge. She jogged out into the chamber, and felt a surge of relief when she saw John calmly walking towards her. He was helmetless and his armour was badly battered, but he looked otherwise unharmed, his walk smooth and untroubled by injury.

"John! I'm so glad you're alright!" she said happily, but he walked straight past her without a word.

She turned around in surprise, and watched him stride purposefully back the way she had come. Rachel was about to follow after him, but then something bright and flickering caught the corner of her eye, and she turned to look out into the chamber beyond. Fifty metres below them, the fungus covered hill looked scorched in places, with massive gouges torn out of the white mound, where it rose up from the cavern floor. Charred and broken chunks of huge white fibrous flesh lay strewn all about the chamber. Some of the pieces smouldered where they lay, while a couple still burned, flickering with an ethereal blue flame.

"Thrall!" John called out, in a commanding voice. "We must attend your matriarch, she has been critically wounded."

Rachel looked up at him, and saw he was standing by the gallery of calcite pillars that led into the room, staring in her direction. She was startled when she realised he was addressing her, and when she turned to follow him, he walked quickly ahead and out of sight. Hurrying to catch up, she jogged after him, and reached him just as he casually flipped the massive monolith aside, freeing Alyssa from its heavy weight.

John knelt and moved to pick up her broken body, until Rachel dashed forward and placed her hand on his arm. "Wait! Don't move her yet, she might have some internal injuries!" she blurted out in panic.

He nodded and stepped clear. "Are you a physician, thrall?" he asked, his behaviour growing as increasingly bizarre as Irillith's.

Rachel frowned at him, then nodded as she knelt by Alyssa's side, and pulled out the medi-scanner again to check the girl's wounds. "Her right arm and leg are broken in several places. She has a couple of broken ribs, and it looks like a punctured lung!" she said in alarm. "If you carry her out, you might cause more damage!"

John turned and strode over to the grav-sled containing the sonic device, and brushed Irillith aside where she had been standing nervously beside it. She gasped in surprise, and then backed away from him warily. John ignored her, and then effortlessly shoved the heavy device off the sled, leaving it to fall on its side with a metallic clunk. Irillith let out a strangled cry, and darted forward to kneel by the device, checking it frantically. Ignoring her completely, John grabbed the grav-sled and pulled it back over to Rachel.

"Will this suffice as a stretcher?" he asked intently.

She nodded eagerly and replied, "Yes, that's perfect! Help me lift her on to it please, but we have to move her slowly and carefully."

John nodded, following Rachel's instructions as they transferred Alyssa to the flat surface of the grav-sled. She stirred briefly, groaning in pain, so Rachel knelt at her side and administered an anaesthetic and sedative from the hypo-syringe she carried on her belt.

Dana jogged over to them, and when she saw John, she said with relief, "Oh, thank God! I wondered what happened to you!"

He stared at her blankly, with no flicker of recognition reaching his eyes. Dana looked up at him in confusion at his odd behaviour, and was about to ask him what was going on, when Irillith ran over to join them.

"We have to leave here, now!" she shrieked in panic. "I can't fight my way out on my own!"

Dana turned to look at her in surprise, and the Maliri woman continued pleading with them desperately, "Please! We don't have much time, we must go now!"

"But what about the research facility and the data?" Dana asked in confusion.

Irillith had turned to stare at the sonic device, and she mumbled, "There is no data..."

Dana followed Irillith's gaze, and saw what she was staring at, "Oh fuck!" she cursed, before whirling on the Maliri woman. "That's a fucking bomb, isn't it?"

"The timer activated when he tipped it over," Irillith said angrily, pointing an accusatory finger towards John. "It's been damaged and I can't shut it off!"

John started reaching for his sword, and he took a menacing step towards the Maliri woman, fury written over his face as he growled, "You dare speak to me in such a way, slave?"

Dana glanced his way, and said urgently, "We haven't got time for this. We have to get out of here now!"

He looked back at her, and paused before nodding. "How do we leave this place?" he asked sternly.

Dana activated the intercom in her helmet, and opened a channel to Rachel, asking in a worried voice, "What the fuck is up with him?"

Rachel looked up at her, from where she was tending to Alyssa, and replied, "I'm not sure, he's been acting strangely ever since I found him in the other chamber. It looks like you're in charge now."

Dana squared her shoulders, then took a deep breath as she turned around, and said decisively, "Alright, I'll lead us back, but I'm going to need your help if we come across any more Fulmanax."

She grabbed a couple of empty magazines from the webbing slots at her waist, and quickly inserted some clips of ammo, restocking the mags so they were ready for use. John had drawn his sword, and Irillith had unslung her laser rifle, which she was now holding in shaking hands. Rachel stood by Alyssa's side and picked up some clips of ammo from the fallen girl's webbing, restocking her empty magazines.

"Alright, let's move out," Dana said firmly, and led them quickly back the way they had originally come through the cavern.

They walked past huge piles of Fulmanax warrior corpses, that had surrounded their defensive position in expanding rings of Fungoid bodies. The last grenade she had thrown had blasted a big hole in the stacks of white mushroom cadavers, and they walked through the crater, weaving around the last few dozen bodies until they were clear. Watching carefully for sinkholes, they followed the path back through the murky cavern, until they reached the stone bridge that rose eerily out of the glowing mist that swirled around their feet.

A group of Fulmanax warriors let out shrieking cries and charged towards them, their scarlet capped heads bobbing into view as they appeared out of the gloom. Dana and Rachel readied their railguns and were about to open fire, when John stepped forward, eagerly brandishing his sword. The Fulmanax saw him and skidded to a halt, then scrambled backwards, fleeing as though in terror.

Dana watched them run away on their three stumpy legs, and shrugged, deciding not to question their sudden good fortune. "Let's keep moving!" she urged them, and darted up the stone bridge, looking down its length to check for enemies.

She beckoned them to follow, and their dishevelled group trotted along the long rocky ridge, with no sign of Fulmanax to trouble them as they went. Dana jogged down the ramp on the other side, but could see no more of the strange mushroom-like aliens, so she began carefully threading her way towards the tunnel on the other side of the cavern. The others caught up to her, with Alyssa lying comatose on the silently hovering grav-sled, and Rachel walking attentively by the blonde girl's side.

The tunnel up to the next level was even more treacherous going up, than it was coming down, with the water-slicked floor making them slip and skid with practically every step. In the end, John took the lead, and repeatedly drove his sword into the ground, using it as an anchor to pull him up, while dragging the grav-sled with his other hand. The girls clambered aboard, being careful not to disturb Alyssa, and he made steady but painfully slow progress up the ramp.

Irillith kept glancing nervously at the device built into her vambrace, and a series of Maliri glyphs cycled through various shapes on the small holographic display.

Dana glanced at the Maliri woman and said tersely, "That's the countdown isn't it? How long till it blows?"

"Just over four minutes," Irillith replied sounding very worried.

Dana swore animatedly, and then activated the comms interface in the GUI, glancing at the corresponding icons to initiate contact with the Invictus. She finally got through, and Calara's image appeared in a small window on the left of the interface, flickering with static. She looked surprisingly tired and drawn, with lines of worry furrowing her brow.

"What's going on down there?! I couldn't get through to you!" the Latina said frantically. "Is Alyssa alright? I felt her pain through the link, and now she's gone silent!"

"The rock strata must have been blocking the signal," Dana said in a steady voice, trying to calm the brunette. "Alyssa's been hurt, but she's going to be okay. We need Jade to come down ASAP, and get us out of here!"

"She's on her way," Calara said, glancing off to the side. "ETA three minutes."

Dana controlled her expression, to avoid revealing just how worried she was, and said, "Alright, we'll be right out. Tell her to hurry!"

Calara nodded, and smiled tremulously at her, as she said, "Be careful, I'll see you soon."

They ended the call, and Dana let out a sigh. When she looked up to find out how they were doing, she was overjoyed to see that John had managed to bring them right up to the top cavern, and they were finally leaving the slippery tunnel behind. The girls all jumped off the grav-sled, and raised their weapons in case of a Fulmanax attack, but the only Fungi in sight were the huge towering ones that seemed to be used as a food source.

"Jade is on her way, but we've not got much time, so we're going to have to run for it!" Dana warned them.

They all stared at her fearfully, except John, who stood impassively at their side. Dana stared at him a moment, wanting to tell him off for freaking her out, but it was neither the time nor the place. Instead she said, "Irillith, can the grav-sled keep up with us if we run?"

The Maliri woman looked up at her, tearing her eyes away from the ticking countdown and nodded.

"Alright, let's go. Follow me!" Dana ordered them loudly, and sprinted through the misty cavern, her feet making squelching sounds with every light footfall.

The others ran after her, with the grav-sled hovering silently behind, trailing after Irillith. Rachel kept pace with the sled, darting anxious glances at Alyssa whenever she could. They charged across the huge room, with a few squat Fulmanax drones lurching out of their way as they ran past them. Dana found the ramp upwards easily enough, and she dashed up the slope, while keeping a wary eye out for any ambushes, but it seemed that the Fulmanax had decided to let them leave unhindered. They ran around the ledge, and then into the broad tunnel that sloped up to the surface.

The device built into Irillith's vambrace started emitting a soft chiming noise every few seconds, which was rising in pitch with every note.

"How long?" Dana gasped, as she dashed along the tunnel, darting worried glances down each pitch-black side tunnel as they ran up the slope.

Irillith glanced at her vambrace and blurted out, "Fifty seconds!"

Dana fought down the rising tide of fear, determined not to panic and let them down, not while they were all depending on her. As she rounded the next corner, the tunnel levelled out and she could see the tunnel entrance ahead of them.

"We're nearly there, move everyone!" she shouted encouragingly, and the rest of the tired group sprinted hard for the cavern mouth.

They burst out into the meadow beyond, and to Dana's eternal gratitude, the Raptor gunship was parked nearby, with Jade standing by the lowered landing ramp. She was waiting for them nervously, and she started to jog towards them when she saw them break out of the tunnel.

"No!" Dana shouted, waving her back. "Start up the Raptor, we have to leave now!"

Jade nodded, and darted up into the gunship in a fast loping run. Dana, Rachel and John ran towards her, but Irillith broke away, and ran to her own golden ship, that shone brightly in the midday sun. The grav-sled peeled away from their group, and began to follow obediently after Irillith, taking Alyssa with it.

"Irillith, the grav-sled!" Dana called out, and the Maliri woman turned to glance back at it for a moment.

She paused and unclipped the device from her vambrace and then lobbed it carelessly in Dana's direction, before sprinting into her ship. A few seconds later, the Maliri heavy fighter lifted off the ground, and then roared away, heading up to the orbiting cruiser.

"Fucking bitch!" Dana cursed, as she had to dash to the side to catch the casually discarded device.

She scooped it up, and heard the chimes it was emitting, climbing to ever higher notes. With a glance behind, to make sure that the grav-sled was following her, she raced over to the Raptor and sprinted up the ramp.

"We're clear!" she shouted out loudly as soon as the sled was aboard, hoping that Jade could hear her from down here.

The Nymph must have been able to, because the Raptor took off immediately, the retro-thrusters lifting them off the ground with a dull roar. Jade powered up the engines, and they raced away into the sky, while Dana, Rachel and John sat on the floor, panting for breath.

***

Irillith sought to catch her breath as she stared out of the clear crystal bubble on her fighter, watching as the white Terran gunship left the ground, and followed after her. Both ships scrambled to put more distance between themselves and the planet, and she knew they didn't have much time left. A few seconds later the whole mountain range seemed to tremble, as the incendiary bomb detonated, igniting the magnesium veins that interlaced the once dormant volcano. She watched dispassionately as the top of the mountain exploded, blasting out molten hot magma in a thunderous explosion.

She slumped in her chair, and stared out into space, the icy fingers of dread having never stopped clawing at her heart. She had done as her mother had demanded; the indigenous Fulmanax had been exterminated, and the planet Quanthos could now be colonised at their leisure. Not only that, she was bringing the Mael'nerak back to her homeworld as she had been bid, and Irillith now held absolutely no doubt as to his identity. She just couldn't shake the feeling that her mother was making a calamitous error in judgement, and the thought of having that conversation with her, left her quaking in fear.

***

Dana and the others sat quietly in the Raptor, regaining their breath. Rachel stood and pulled off her helmet, placing it on the grav-sled as she checked on Alyssa.

"How's she doing?" Dana asked her friend, standing herself and copying the tawny haired girl, removing her own helmet too.

Rachel looked worried as she examined Alyssa, scanning her with the medi-scanner. "I can't detect any internal bleeding, but she's got a lot of broken bones, and is in a bad way. I'll have to take her straight up to Medical to get her prepped for surgery."

She then frowned and glanced over at Dana as she continued, "Those caverns were saturated with fungus spores. I'll have to decontaminate all of us to make sure we don't pick up anything nasty."

Dana darted a glance back at John, who lay slumped against a bulkhead, having slipped into unconsciousness. "If he tops us up, we should be fine, right?"

Rachel followed her gaze, looking down at John and nodded as she replied, "Yes, that's true, but he might be out of it for a while. Even when he wakes up, we need to make sure Alyssa gets his attention first."

Dana paused, and looked into Rachel's eyes as she said hesitantly, "What happened back in the other chamber? He was acting so weird! It was like he wasn't even the same person, and he had no clue who I was..."

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byTefler© 77 comments/ 40645 views/ 53 favorites

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